Tag Archives: Traditions

Why do Jews write G-D instead of God?

In simple words, it is because of respect. The Hebrew name of God is given a great degree of reverence such that it cannot be erased or disrespected in any means once it is written or printed. Actually, this custom derives from an interpretation of the commandments by Moses, found in Deuteronomy 12:3-12:4. In this part, Moses instructs his followers to destroy anything associated with the gods of their rivals and they are not to let this happen to their own God.
Judaism does not prohibit writing the name of God. The prohibition is against destroying it some way. Erasing, tearing, throwing the paper away and all are considered means of tarnishing God’s name. Since anything printed or written is likely to be damaged some point of time, they use the word with extreme care. A convenient way to avoid the chance of disrespect was to refrain from writing the name of God. This applies to the sacred Hebrew names of God, such as YHVH, Hashem and Elohim, found in Torah, the Hebrew Bible.
Even though there is no rule against writing and erasing God in English, many Jews treat the word with same respect as in Hebrew. So when writing, they use ‘G-d’ instead of ‘God’ in case it would be destroyed in future. It is actually a recent custom, and prevents others from destroying the name of God. Since the word is not complete but conveys the idea well, there is no risk of defacing the name. It can be erased or damaged later without disrespecting the God. Some use the word G!d as a mean to express both respect and wonder.
The Jews are even reluctant to say the name of God aloud. Instead they use phrases like ‘the Creator,’ ‘the Merciful One’ and ‘Master of the Universe’ to refer the God. Many Jews wouldn’t discard paper or books which contains God’s name in Hebrew either. Those books are regarded with a great amount of respect and the believers would rather store such documents in a genizah (a storage place in synagogue) and sometimes bury them in a Jewish cemetery.
The evolution of technology has triggered various debates over the writing of God’s name on the computer and other electronic devices. The general agreement is that the rule doesn’t apply to the modern devices. The deletion of God’s name on a computer screen is not considered a violation of the rule.
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When and where did slavery start?

Over thousands of years of the history of humans, we have been witness to many abominable things. Slavery certainly ranks high among them. It has robed millions of their happiness and dignity, and led them to subjugation under other members of their own species.
Slavery has a very long history. It traces its birth back to prehistoric times and has been there in almost every civilization from ancient times. In many cultures, it was legal and slaves were considered properties of their masters. The social status of slaves varied according to places and time.
Slavery began with the formation of civilizations. Early humans were hunters and nomads, who had no use of slaves. With the dawn of civilizations, new jobs were created and workers were needed. Slavery began with the workers hired for cheap wage. Wars were one of the primary sources of slaves. The captives of war were considered slaves and were made to work for meager food and accommodation. Debts, selling of children by poor families, punishments and all created more slaves. In many places, children born to slave mothers were recognized as slaves as well.
It is not possible to pinpoint the exact place and time when slavery started. Written reference to slavery has been found in the Code of Hammurabi, daring back to 18th century BC. The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Indus Valley were all familiar with slavery, though the fraction of slaves was very small.
The earliest known slave society emerged in Greece. It was particularly strong in the state of Athens. Most of the slaves were domestic servants. The male slaves did the outdoor works while the females were retained as concubines or maids. From there slavery spread to Roman Empire and other civilizations. The expansion of Roman Empire triggered more wars and created new slaves. In the last two centuries BC, more than half of the Roman population was slaves. It was also when slaves began revolts, most famous of those led by Spartacus.
Slavery spread to Entire Europe and was strong in the middle ages. With the beginning of colonization it reached Africa and America and parts of Asia. The Arab world also endorsed the slave culture since 8th century.
From 18th century, the world witnessed many abolition movements which resulted in the ban of slavery. Many European countries banned the slave system. In 1863, American president Abraham Lincoln issued his historical Emancipation Proclamation.
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When and why did women start shaving their body hair?

Like men, women also grow hair naturally on their body. However, today most of the fairer sex shave their body hair and want to appear with smooth skin. A woman with hairy skin is often frowned upon; hence those who don’t like to shave are also forced to do it by social pressure.
It is not exactly known when or where the practice of shaving body hair began. There are evidences of the practice in ancient civilizations. The Egyptian women used to remove their hair from head to toe, using pumice stones and waxes. Hairless body seemed to be a norm among the women of ancient Greece and Rome as well, although in the upper class. It must be noted that all of the ancient art pieces, be it pictures or sculptures, depict women without body hair. Somehow, the notion of ideal feminine beauty didn’t give room for body hair. In addition to the smooth look, the shaving had a practical purpose as well; hygiene. Armpit hair and pubic hair were removed so as to avoid vermin like lice.
Milady Decolletee
With the invention of razor in the 18th century, it became easy to remove body hair, although it was designed for the use of men. The trend of removing body hair really kicked off the 1910s. The first razor specifically for women was created by King Camp Gillette in 1915, branded as Milady Decolletee (picture, above). It was the same time companies began campaigns claiming body hair was something of an embarrassment to women.
In May of 1915, the women’s magazine Harper’s Bazaar published an advert featuring a young model in a sleeveless dress posing with both arms over her head. It was the first one of its kind and various others followed. Anti-armpit hair campaigns were soon storming the media, all of which told women that their natural body hair took away their beauty. It didn’t take much effort to convince most of them, especially those from middle class, that it was a shame to have body hair. When the fashion trends introduced more revealing clothes, it became necessary for most women to shave their hair. It didn’t take much to become a kind of obsession.
However, recently a lot of women have expressed dismay about the practice, opting to go for their natural look. Various celebrities have also come forward, urging their fans to forego shaving and not to be lured by the marketing gimmicks of companies.

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Why do we toast drinks to celebrate?

Toasting drinks is one of the rituals practiced worldwide but of which hardly anyone knows or cares about the origin. We toast drink to honor someone or some achievement, but it has become so mundane that people now clink their glasses together before drinking for no particular reason other than of habit.
Despite the merriment around the custom, it is said to have arisen from some ancient dark practices. According to some unverified accounts, ancient Greeks used to toast their drinks to convince their fellow drinkers that the drink was free of poison. It was said that one of the most common methods to kill a secret enemy was to poison their drinks. People became so distrustful of each other that it became necessary to pour drink from a common pitcher and drink it before raising the glass and invite others to follow. It is also said that the clinking of glasses causes the beverages to spill into each other’s glasses and any potential murder attempts could be discouraged. The genuineness of these stories is, however, questionable.
A more sound explanation for the origin of the custom is the ritualistic libations the ancient people used to carry out. The Greeks often made sacrificial libations to gods, accompanied by a wish. There was also the custom of drinking to everyone’s health, as documented in many of the erstwhile literature. Sometimes, citizens were required to toast for the health of emperors.
Even though the custom of toasting appears in various cultures across the world, it is believed to have become popular from the practice of Westerners. The origin of the term toast traces its history back to a custom that prevailed in the Middle Ages. It was common to put a slice of burned or spiced bread in wines and other beverages to reduce the acidity of them. Even William Shakespeare refers to the custom in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Over time, the word toast came to refer to a person whom the drinkers were honoring. People began to toast for any achievement of somebody or famous persons, even in their absence. Men often toasted for the beautiful women in the locality, giving rise to the phrase ‘toast of the town’.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, toasting became a common custom and not following it in public gatherings came to be seen as an insulting gesture. It stuck on, and now people toast in from wedding receptions to commemoration of the dead.

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When and where was fork invented?

It may look a little bit weird in its appearance, but the use of fork is natural habit if you are from Europe or America. People don’t know when this peculiar thing became a part of their eating utensils but it feels like it has been there forever. Famous poet Charles Simic thought it “must have crept out of hell itself”. It would be interesting if we start to trace the history of things we use daily but don’t give a thought about. And fork is one such thing.
Even though it is a permanent part of Western cutlery, fork can be considered a late arrival to the group. Knives and spoons were the most common utensils in ancient days. Although fork had arrived in a much rudimentary forms with the aforementioned utensils, it didn’t begin to be featured prominently on the dining table until much later.
Some of the earliest known specimens of table forks were in use in the Ancient Egypt. They are also found to have been used in the Qijia culture that flourished in parts of China in second millennium before Christ. The Persians in 9th century and Byzantines in 11th century are reported to have used forks.
By 15th century, forks had been used in the dining culture of several countries, albeit occasionally. It was further popularized by Catherine de Medici, who went on to marry Henry II of France and became queen of the country. She conducted many public functions and the fork was part of the dining utensils. However, those types only had two prongs, and were used primarily to pick sweets.
It took several centuries again for fork to establish itself as a permanent part of cutlery. Still, its presence was limited to upper class families in those periods. Even though forks became a part of cutlery, people were still reluctant to use it. However, as the societies developed new eating etiquette and neater eating habits were demanded in public gatherings, fork began to cement its presence. Around 18th century, the number of spikes became three and four as well.
Types of Forks (click to enlarge)
By 19th century, it had become so common and been used by commoners. With the invention of silver-plating techniques, different types of forks also began to appear, used to eat different delicacies. Now they are as popular, if not more popular, as knives.

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Why are black cats considered bad luck?

Suppose you are heading for an important business meeting. Suddenly a black cat crosses your path. If you are like most of the people, you would be thinking ‘Oh, God, the day is gone!’ The cat would have reached wherever it had been going, without knowing you are cursing it.
Superstitions prevail in every corner of the world and animals are connected to many of them. The black cat is such an unfortunate victim of superstitious practices. They are universally considered to be bad luck.
However, it hasn’t been very long since the black cats fell out of favor with people, considering the history of companionship between the man and the felines. As far back as 3000 BC, during the Egyptian civilization, cats including the black ones were regarded highly. Rather than being mere pets, they were respected and even worshipped. Some of the Egyptian gods had the figures of cat as well. The killing of cats was a crime worthy of capital punishment. They were revered so much that many of them received the coveted honor of mummification upon their death like the humans. In 1888, when an ancient Egyptian tomb was uncovered, it was found to house thousands of mummified cats!
So when the humans began to turn against their feline friends? It was several centuries ago, in the middle ages, people began to harbor ill-feeling towards cats. It was during when the tales of so-called witches began to find their way around. Many old women, especially those were living alone and detached from the society, were accused of practicing black magic. Since many of them had cats as pets, they too were hated and feared by people. Especially the black cats took the brunt of the loathing against their species.
A lot of stories began to spread about cats. In Scotland, people believed in a fairy called Cat Sith, who had the appearance of a giant black cat and the ability to steal a dead person’s soul before the gods could take it away. People used to guard the body until the time of burial, to protect it from Sith.
By 16th century, another belief also began to spread, that witches could take on the appearance of cats. It was strengthened by a folk tale of a father and son that began to circulate then. In the story, the father and son were travelling in the night when a black cat crossed their path. The son threw stones at the creature, injuring it. It scuttled away to the home of a woman suspected of being a witch. The next day, the father and son came across that woman and saw that she was limping, and it further solidified the belief of witches turning into black cats.
During the Salem Witch trials, this belief found support from people and the fear of black cats prevailed in the society. Different cultures echo the same fear, supported by various folk tales. However, there are still some places where the black cats are held in high esteem. The Japanese believe black cats are good luck, and in English Midlands they are given as wedding gifts in hope of bringing good fortune.

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Why is jaywalking called jaywalking?

People are often inclined to break silly rules, for a variety of reasons. It is most evident in the case of pedestrians on road, where they tend to ignore traffic regulations for convenience’s sake. It is to mention these people the word jaywalking is used. It is a term that is perhaps not quite popular outside the United States. It is actually a word used to denote a pedestrian crossing the road or street without any regard to the traffic rules. For example, a person is said to be jaywalking if he or she is crossing the road when there is explicitly stated that crossing road is prohibited in that particular area. The term only evolved in the early 20th century, with the introduction of automobiles. It had its first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1917. The promoters of automobile were instrumental in spreading the term widely, as they conceived the roads to be only for vehicles.
The origin of the word Jaywalking was in America. Contrary to a popular misconception, the term was not derived from the letter J, the shape of which jaywalkers were supposed to follow. Actually, jaywalker is a compound word, derived from ‘jay’ and ‘walk’. The term jay is a local slang used by the Americans to mention inexperienced, often stupid, persons. It was in use in late 19th century, mainly to denote the rural residents, who were considered by urban people to be rather dull and naive. With no great knowledge about the automobiles and not used to the traffic system in cities, these people were likely to get in front of a moving vehicle.
In 1910s and 1920s, the term took off as the result of the campaign by the motordom. By then, the roads were public places with right for everyone to walk, but with the increase in number of vehicles, accidents began to mount. It was to put the blame on the pedestrians for the accidents the ‘jaywalking’ campaign began. Motorists widely used the term jaywalker to ridicule inexperienced pedestrians. Even though protests rose against the derogatory reference, they failed to counter the campaign. The pedestrians even called the ridiculing drivers ‘jay-drivers’, but to no effect. Eventually it found its place in popular culture, with regular reference.
Jaywalking is perceived to be one of the major traffic problems in the United States. The newspapers often publish commentaries on the carelessness of the pedestrians in the areas with high motor vehicle density. The police department and others regularly run campaigns to discourage the practice of jaywalking.

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What is the origin and history of the 21-gun salute?

There are many a customary salute in various militaries around the world. A 21-gun salute is easily the most famous among them, tracing its origin to the 17th century. Since very early ages, there had been tradition of saluting to honor someone, such as royal members. In the medieval Europe, which witnessed various wars, it was customary for the defeated naval forces to empty the stock of their ammunition. It was also a tradition for a ship that visited a friendly port to discharge all its cannons to show their intentions. The British in particular, were practitioners of the custom although they compelled other nations to fire first, to assert their superiority.
Since the standard number of weapons in a vessel was 7 that time, the ships used to fire all the cannons once, rendering them all ineffective. There is also a theory that the number 7 attributes to the importance of the number 7 in Bible.
However, the early gun powder, made mainly of sodium nitrate was easier to keep at land rather than on ships. So the land weapons had a greater supply of ammunition, and it was decided that the forts on the land would fire 3 shots for each of the shots from the ships. Thus, the number became 21. With the invention of potassium nitrate and the subsequent improvement in the gun powder quality, the ships also adopted the salute of 21 guns. The salute became the greatest national honor at that point.
The salutes varied according to nations. In a period of time, monarchies received more gun salutes than republics. By 1730, the 21-gun salute had become a part of British Navy. They also rendered the salute on significant anniversaries and to honor royal members.
The British Navy officially adopted the 21-gun salute as a standard custom in 1808. Later they proposed to the United States to adopt the system. The US had been following the salute system according to the number of states till then. On 18 August 1875, the US adopted 21-gun salute. The 21-gun salute is still a significant honor in many countries. They use it in esteemed occasions, notably to honor heads of states or royal members.
Despite its fame, the 21-gun salute often gets mistaken with the 3 Volleys salute that takes place during the funeral of soldiers. The 3 Volleys salute stems from a battlefield tradition where both sides give a break to the fight to remove the dead and injured from the field. The three volleys of shots indicate that the battle could resume.

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Why do men’s bicycles have crossbars while women’s bicycles don’t?

Unlike other vehicles, when it comes to bicycles, we can see a classification of sorts more often than not. Even though it is not formal by any means, some types are called men’s cycles and others women’s cycles, an apparent parameter being the crossbar. The so called men’s cycles have a horizontal crossbar, creating a large triangle in its frame, but women’s cycles typically don’t. The women’s cycles rather have a slanted crossbar, although the modern concepts are blurring all these implications.
The horizontal crossbar was actually a pivotal part in the cycles in its early days. Then the cycles used to be made of weaker materials, even wood. The horizontal bar connected to the top of seat tube provided quite a bit of strength and balance to the cycle frames. This set-up is actually called diamond frame and was the usual design.
The lack of the crossbar for women’s cycles can be attributed to the social reservations and male prejudices that prevailed in the past. The primary attires of women those days were dresses and skirts which were often floor length and wide. If a woman had to ride a bicycle, she had to lift her leg over the crossbar, which made her dress to rise up, exposing more amount of leg than others would have liked or even a bit of underwear. It is unnecessary to say how scandalous and unladylike it would have been to do so in those times.
Owing to this fact, the cycle makers began to design models suited for women. They slanted the crossbar a bit such that it was connected to middle of the seat tube. It became easy for the women to mount and dismount the cycle without exposing their legs. It was also easy for elder people and people with limited dexterity to hop on the cycle without straining their body much. These types of frames were called step-through frames and became as popular the diamond frames.
This tradition has continued till date, though the reasons for it are getting insignificant these days and women rarely ride cycles in skirts or dresses. Today the cycles are made of strong materials and it compensates the absence of a crossbar.
When it comes to the sports cycles, for those who do tricks on them, they are normally built with a high crossbar; no matter whether they are for men or women. Even most of the cycle championship organizers insist on having horizontal crossbar. Most of the racers have their cycles custom built, the design suitable for their body.

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Why don’t Amish men grow mustaches?

The Amish, also known as Amisch or Amische, are a group of traditionalist Christians, having their origin from the Swiss Anabaptists in 17th century. In 18th century, most of them migrated to North America. The Amish are mostly known for their lifestyle, characterized by the inclination towards the simplicity in living, dressing, and their reluctance to adopt the advantages of modern amenities and technology. They seldom use electricity and modern vehicles. They take their name from Swiss Mennonite leader Jakob Ammann, who formed a different group after withdrawing from the Mennonite church due to disagreements on traditions. The group following Amman went on to be called Amish.
The lifestyle of Amish is in accordance with an unwritten code of conduct, called the Ordnung or the Order, which varies slightly from communities to communities. One of the most renowned features of Amish is the beards worn by men. Known as Amish beard, it is characterized by long untrimmed growth of facial hair not accompanied by moustache. There are two major reasons behind this tradition. A moustache is seen as a symbol of pride and vanity by the Amish. Their lifestyle abstains from both and embraces humility and submissiveness.
The tradition also traces back its origin to the social scenario in the early days of the Amish in Europe. During those days, long moustaches were associated with aristocratic men who often served in the military. In their incipient period, the Mennonites including the Amish were often harassed by the military and other violent groups. Because of this, the Amish, who consider themselves a peaceful sect, decided to forego any signs that would associate themselves to these violent groups. One of the ways to do it was to refrain from growing moustaches. It continued as a tradition and still remains among the Old Order Amish people.
However, as far as the beards are concerned, they are a requirement among the Amish. It stems from the fact that almost all the Biblical males are supposed to have had beards. Also, the presence of beard signifies maturity and wisdom in their view. However, in some communities, the Amish men are allowed to grow beard only after their marriage. The marriage is seen as the attainment of adulthood and the beard indicates a male’s formation as a man. In other communities, men are allowed to grow beard after they have been baptized, as sign of reaching adulthood.

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